MINNEAPOLIS — The Cleveland Guardians came to Minnesota and won their seventh consecutive series, pulling ahead of the Twins in the AL Central with five more matchups looming next week.
Too early to call it a race? Perhaps, but after three straight one-run games there’s no denying these division rivals will match up the rest of the way.
Nick Gordon hit a third-inning home run that stood up for starter Devin Smeltzer as the Twins dodged a sweep, cooling off the Guardians with a 1-0 win on Thursday.
“I try not to get wrapped up in the race. The only pitch that matters is the next one. The only game that matters is the next one,” Smeltzer said. “What happens in the past, you really can’t control. If you start riding those waves, that’s when you start getting in trouble.”
Gordon, subbing for ailing star Byron Buxton in center field, drove a 1-2 curveball from Zach Plesac (3-4) into the grass berm beyond the wall in center. Smeltzer took it from there, before a high-wire act by Minnesota’s taxed and struggling bullpen finished off the back-and-forth series.
“We’re not going to back down, but we respect them. We know when we play them, they’re good, man,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “They play us as tough as any team has played us the last few years.”
The Guardians loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh inning against Joe Smith. They got a man to second base with one out in the eighth facing Jhoan Duran, the Twins’ best reliever. They had a runner on second with one out in the ninth against Caleb Thielbar, who recorded his first career save by striking out pinch-hitter Steven Kwan to end the game.
Cleveland lost for just the fifth time in its last 22 games. The Guardians (36-29) lead by percentage points in the AL Central race, having played six fewer games than the Twins (39-32).
“They’re tough, and they’re going to continue to be tough. They’re not going anywhere,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Cleveland hosts a five-game series against Minnesota starting Monday. They play eight more times in September.
“Hopefully, we can pack the house at Progressive. It’s going to be exciting,” Plesac said.
After blowing a 10-7 ninth-inning lead in an 11-10 loss on Wednesday and squandering a 5-3 eighth-inning edge in a 6-5 defeat on Tuesday , the Twins badly needed a pick-me-up from Smeltzer (4-1). The left-hander cruised through six innings, allowing only two singles and one double while striking out three on a 95-degree afternoon.
Plesac completed six innings, with three hits and two walks allowed. He struck out six.
The Twins had Buxton on the bench for the second straight game because of soreness and swelling in his right knee that has bothered him all season, his first consecutive absences in two months. Baldelli said the team is not currently considering an injured list stint to help Buxton’s chronic case of patellar tendinitis.
“He’s going to continue to do an admirable job going forward dealing with this,” Baldelli said. “But when you literally cannot swing or run,…